To control costs and greatly improve communications network capabilities, Citicorp is deploying high-speed fiber optic technology to connect its key businesses in New York metropolitan buildings.

The $254 billion-asset institution will use Sonet --Synchronous Optical Network -- a fiber optic transmission standard that can support such high-bandwidth applications as desktop video and multimedia.

Citi will link nine sites in New York and one in New Jersey, buildings where the company has data or customer service centers supporting core lines of business, including global finance and consumer and private banking.

The banking company's existing patchwork of communications networks will be replaced by Sonet, which is slated for full operation by yearend, said Citibank officials.

The company's central telecommunications unit, Global Information Network, is working with Nynex to install and manage the network.

Citicorp's global network, formed in 1992, has responsibility for running and optimizing telecommunications services.

The Sonet project "grew from our examination a year ago of how to accommodate high data growth, simplify our current hybrid Metro Area Network, control costs, and dramatically improve service levels," said Robert Swithers, director of global advanced planning and architecture for CGIN.

Sonet gives the company "tremendous capacity without an increase in cost," he said, adding that this is critical to meeting the bank's data transmission requirements.

"We see data growing substantially, largely driven by [computer network] applications, and communication between buildings," he said.

The architecture that Citicorp is deploying will run at 2.5 gigabits per second -- equivalent to 32,256 simultaneous phone calls -- a bandwidth that's typically reserved for carrier use.

"This was sensible for us because of the enormous presence we have in the New York area," said Mr. Swithers. "In general, all financial institutions will become more dependent on highspeed data for such applications as imaging, groupware, and data base replication."

"Sonet is definitely the wave of the future," said Robert Rosiello, senior account executive at Nynex. Factors driving demand for the technology in the financial industry include "the distributed nature of data on local and wide area networks and the need to get at it quickly and reliably," he said. "Also, applications are becoming more bandwidth-intensive."

Although Nynex has worked with other financial institutions to deploy Sonet, Citicorp is the first of its customers that will have a network of this magnitude, said Mr. Rosiello. The network will have more lines and the highest speeds for any customer to date, he said.

"Citicorp is on the leading edge of deploying this technology," he said.

Besides high bandwidth and unprecedented transmission speeds, Sonet will also give the company several levels of network backup. The network is "self-healing" and "self-redundant," meaning it can restore itself, when a failure occurs, without human intervention.

The network equipment is backed up, as well as the fiber optic lines themselves. If a fiber line is cut or degraded, traffic is automatically switched to another, standby line.

For this setup, Citicorp has requested even more redundancy. Two fiber feeds run into every location so that no single event can isolate any of the buildings, said Mr. Rosiello.

The Sonet deployment is the first step toward Citicorp's use of asynchronous transfer mode, an emerging high-speed, broadband transmission technology. Sonet is a transmission protocol upon which the transfer mode will be built, said Mr. Rosiello, easing Citicorp's adoption of it because the infrastructure will already be in place.

In a few years, the bank company will begin testing asynchronous transfer mode for computer network applications and for communication between buildings, said Mr. Swithers.

Nynex has teamed up with MFS Communications Co., an alternate carrier -- and traditional local telephone competitor -- to offer the service.

Because one Citicorp site is in Parsippany, N.J., a town Nynex is not permitted to serve, Nynex decided to partner with MFS, which is allowed to serve that area. In addition, both MFS and Nynex had resources serving some of the same buildings in New York, so it seemed like a good partnership, said Mr. Rosiello.

Working with MFS also helped Nynex fulfill Citicorp's strict reliability and diversity requirements, said Mr. Rosiello. Providing dual fiber feeds to every Citicorp location would have been a tremendous undertaking for any one carrier, he said, adding that working with a partner helped Nynex to develop the network cost effectively.

Nynex will remain Citicorp's single point of contact, and it will work day-to-day with Citi's global information network to manage Sonet.

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